As promised, Carlotta visited me the day after the Harpies game.
“I am so sorry,” she said again, the moment I’d shut the door. “I really am. I didn’t mean to forget; it’s just that I have such a bad memory at times. I arranged something with Flick and completely forgot about your match until you rang me! I was gutted; I really wanted to watch it...”
“It’s okay.” I forced a smile. “You didn’t miss much anyway; I had a bit of an off day.”
“Oh.” She looked even more guilty. “Oh, I’m really sorry-”
“You don’t need to apologise, it wasn’t your fault,” I lied. “It happens sometimes. Just ... can I ask you something?”
“Sure you can.”
“You’re not ... getting bored of all this magic stuff, are you? I mean, it’s okay if you are, it’s just...”
I tailed off. I really didn’t fancy telling her I was concerned about having to modify her memory. If I so much as hinted at memory modification, she’d probably immediately deny losing interest anyway. After all, who would freely consent to having memories removed?
“Of course I’m not!” she protested, her eyes wide. “I love Quidditch. I think it’s great. I genuinely just forgot about this match, that’s all. But I’ll come along next weekend, I promise. I’ve written it down this time, so that I can’t forget, and I’ve told Flick I’m spending the day with you, so even if I do forget, she can remind me. Who are you playing next?”
“Pride of Portree,” I said, feeling more relaxed. “They’re the second Scottish team. They’re a bit better than the Magpies, and they were good last season, so that will be more of a challenge.”
“But you’ve won all of your games so far?”
“We have, yeah. If we win this one, we’ll be doing well because our next group of games will be relatively easy ones, and then the game after that is a guaranteed win. The last two matches will be tough, but we can make things easier for ourselves by winning as many of these as possible, because then the pressure is off slightly. The Pride will be tough, though. Portree is a bitch of a place to play at.”
She pulled a face.
“Well, I hope you win,” she said.
“So do I.” I grinned.
I was hoping for a quiet week, in preparation for the game. I should have known it wouldn’t actually happen; my plans rarely came to fruition. The week got off to a bad start, with a phone call on Monday night.
I picked it up on the third ring.
It was Kit.
“James, are you busy?”
“No, why?” I was curious; Kit rarely rang my phone. In fact, I couldn’t think of an instance when he had done before.
I sat upright in my chair.
“Is she okay?” I asked sharply.
“She’s just found out that Robbie is going with Rosalind to their prom.”
“You’re joking!” I exclaimed. “The fucking bastard – what’s he going with her for?”
“I don’t know, but Lily’s locked herself in their room, and she won’t let me in, and Maddie’s at tennis training. I need you to get in through the wardrobe and check she’s okay, because I really don’t think that she is-”
“Sure I will.” I got to my feet. “Where are you now?”
“I’m at Mum and Dad’s; I didn’t want to ring you from the middle of the corridor. I’ll head back there in a moment; will you unlock the door for me?”
“Yeah, not a problem. See you in a moment.”
I hung up, then practically threw the phone down and Disapparated.
The peephole was unblocked. I couldn’t imagine it had been one of Lily’s priorities when she’d retreated to the safe haven of her room. I could see her, lying face down on her bed, her body shaking with the tears I could hear through the door. I didn’t even bother to knock on the inside of the door; I pushed it open and sat down next to her on the bed. She raised her head as the mattress sank with my weight. When she saw that it was me she sat up and flung her arms round my neck, sobbing into my shoulder.
I said nothing, just held her tightly as she cried, and tried to convince myself that cursing Robbie Bennett really wasn’t a good idea.
Then she said six words which just about broke my heart.
“I wish I wasn’t a Squib...”
She hadn’t said that in years. Not even when Kit took the news about magic badly, not even when she’d had to have a boy Obliviated. The last time she’d said it had been nearly seven years ago, at Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters, when she’d had to watch the rest of her family boarding the Hogwarts Express, knowing that if things had been different, she’d have been boarding it with us.
I had no idea what to say to this. No idea how I could possibly make the situation better, how I could possibly make up for the fact that my little sister had just had her heart broken.
“How can you wish that?” I said eventually.
“Because if I wasn’t a Squib then I wouldn’t even know him!” She pulled away and wiped her face with her sleeve. “If I wasn’t a Squib then I wouldn’t have to worry about telling Muggles who I really am...”
And then it all fell into place.
“There’s no guarantee it would happen again, Lil,” I said soothingly, gently wiping at a few stray tears. “Besides, he’s sensible enough, isn’t he? He’s Maddie’s brother; there’s no reason to suggest he’d take it badly...”
“There was no reason to suggest that it would go badly last time, and it did.” Her eyes filled with tears again. “I don’t have a choice, James. I can’t tell him about magic. I don’t think I could cope with the rejection...”
Her voice cracked.
“Want me to hex him for you?” I suggested.
She smiled faintly.
“I don’t know if that would help,” she said. “How do you know about this, anyway?”
“I was chatting to Kit the other week...”
She closed her eyes in resignation.
“Kit. Of course. He’s far too perceptive...”
“He cares about you,” I put in.
There was a soft knock on the door.
“That’ll be him.” I got to my feet.
“How do you know that?”
“Why do you think I’m here?” I said, making my way through Maddie’s room to the door. “He was worried about you, and rang me.”
When I opened the door, Kit was holding a mug of tea in one hand and a bar of chocolate in the other.
“You’ve done this before,” I said quietly, shutting the door behind him.
“I’m well versed in the art of comforting females,” was his reply.
Lily barely gave him enough time to put the tea and chocolate down before she flung herself at him, hugging him tightly and bursting into tears once more.
“Oh, Lil, he’s not worth the tears,” Kit replied. He sat down on the spot on the bed which I’d just vacated, and put his arms round her. “He’s a complete and utter idiot. I mean, Rosalind? She’s made Maddie’s life hell for years. Of all the people for him to say yes to...” He shook his head exasperatedly.
“Did she ask him then?” I asked him quietly.
“Yeah. I guess we should at least give him credit for not asking her...”
I wondered how Rosalind had asked Robbie. If she’d cornered him – which wouldn’t surprise me, having been the victim of her leech-like tendencies before – then he might have been hard-pressed to say no. Even so, as Kit had said himself, Rosalind had bullied Maddie when they’d first started boarding school. There was a reason that I didn’t like her; she’d given Lily just as hard a time, right from the off. I wouldn’t even consider taking her to the girls’ end of school dance, so the fact that Robbie had agreed to was bewildering.
“Don’t worry, Lil; Maddie will give him what for when she finds out,” Kit reassured her, as her tears subsided. He handed her the mug of tea as she sat up, wiping her face again. “She’ll be absolutely seething. In fact, I don’t know that I want to be the person to break the news to her...”
“She’ll be more mad at me,” Lily said glumly.
I frowned, as I sat down on the other side of her.
“Why should she be mad at you?”
“Because if I’d just asked him in the first place, when she asked you, then this wouldn’t have happened! But I just couldn’t do it! It would have been horrible if he’d said no, and even if he had said yes, it would have just made things worse, because he’d think it was just as friends...”
Kit and I glanced at each other over her head. So he’d been right in his assumptions.
“Why don’t you just tell him how you feel?” he suggested, breaking up the chocolate bar.
She looked at him scornfully, though her bloodshot eyes softened the look slightly.
Luckily for him, he only needed that one remark before comprehension dawned on him.
“Lils, you can’t let one bad experience dictate your life-”
“‘Bad experience’ is certainly one way of referring to someone having their memories removed,” she said irritably, taking the chocolate he handed to her nevertheless. “I’m not going there again, especially not with Maddie’s brother. I wouldn’t want that to happen to any of the Bennetts, let alone him.”
“What if you have his memory of agreeing to take Rosalind to the prom removed?” I suggested.
She laughed, and bit off a chunk of the chocolate.
“Or maybe have her memory of asking him removed?” she added.
“Turn her hair green again; that worked out well last time,” Kit chipped in.
Her eyes lit up.
“I could make that happen just before the prom-”
“No, Lily,” I reasoned. “Breaking the Statute, remember?”
“Since when have you been the rational one?” She sighed, and popped the rest of the chocolate into her mouth. “My trouble is,” she said around the square of chocolate, “I now need someone to go to the prom with.”
“I could ask one of the guys-” Kit began, but she shook her head, cutting him off.
“That would be too awkward.”
“I’m sure I could find a willing suitor,” I put in. “Hey, I could ask Murph if you want? You’d enjoy that; you’d have a right laugh.”
“You mean, you’d have a far better time with Ryan there,” she smiled.
“So, is that a yes, or-”
“That’s a yes,” she said. “If you think he’d go-”
“Of course he would, he adores you,” I said with a grin of my own. “Just so long as he’s free, of course. When is it?”
“Fourth of July. It’s a Saturday,” she added.
“Whoa, we’ll have our last game that day-”
“No, you don’t,” she said. “The game’s on the Friday, because the draw for the World Cup groups is on the Saturday. So you just need to make sure that you guys don’t take a whole day or more to beat the Bats – and make sure the Lynch brothers don’t try to mash your face in, either. Maddie won’t be too impressed if you turn up with your facial features rearranged.”
“Hey, she asked me to go with her; she didn’t specify I had to be injury-free.”
Then we heard the door to Maddie’s room open; milliseconds later there was a loud bang as it hit the wall.
“Uh oh,” Lily muttered.
“Lil! Have you heard-”
Maddie headed through the doorway into Lily’s room, and stopped, spotting me and Kit. I heard the door shut, and wondered who else was here.
“Robbie’s taking Rosabint to the prom?” Lily’s light-hearted tone astonished me.
“So it’s true, then?” Maddie looked furious. Behind her, their other friends Imogen and Grace turned up in the doorway. Grace’s eyes fell on me and her cheeks went red; Imogen looked mildly surprised to see Kit here. “I don’t believe him! What does he think he’s doing, asking her?!”
“She asked him,” Imogen supplied, perching on the bed in front of Kit. “It was a bit of a public display...”
“I’m not sure why he was here; I guess it was to see you, Mads,” Grace continued, sitting down on Lily’s desk chair. “We were heading back from dinner, and he was waiting outside the building. Well, she marched right up to him – no, marched is the wrong word. She strutted up to him, fluttered her eyelashes like only she can, and asked if he’d take her to the prom. Well, I guess he thought he couldn’t say no...”
“Bollocks; he can always say no to her!” Maddie growled. “I told you to get a move on and ask him, Lils! We could have all had a right laugh together, and now he’s going with the Queen Bitch! Kit, you’ll have to get one of your lot to go with her now-”
“James is going to ask Ryan,” Lily cut in smoothly.
“Ooh, good shout, Jim!” She nodded approvingly. “Ooh, I can’t believe that boy! I’m going to give him a piece of my mind...” She headed back into her room.
“He’s going to regret the day he was born,” Grace giggled.
“Well, it’s his own fault for agreeing to go with her.” Imogen wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Honestly, can he not remember all the aggravation she’s caused-”
Maddie’s angry voice cut her off.
“Robert Bennett, what the hell possessed you to say yes to a prom date with Rosalind Wentworth-Farlington? Are you a complete bone-headed moron?”
Grace and Imogen clapped their hands over their mouths over their mouths to stifle their laughter, and even Lily smiled.